Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Privilege processing

Today I was talking to someone about privilege, and how I am privileged more than I can even acknowledge: I'm white, middle-class, way too educated, and employed, plus I live in a house, drive a car, have clean water . . . the list goes on and on. And anyone who has darker skin than mine, or anyone in the LBGTIQ spectrum, or anybody without education (to list only a few things) doesn't have the power to affect things in the same way I do. That includes publishing books, which is why I'm thinking about it.

I have a huge interest in writing diverse, multicultural characters. But should I speak *through* my characters? Is it OK for me, with all my privilege, to presume to speak in a first-person voice from the head of a person of color? Or a person who's gay? What about a person with a disability?

Lots of people would say (have said), flat out, NO EFFING WAY. OK, but what if I study a lot, read a lot, talk to people, do my research, be respectful? NO EFFING WAY. What if I acknowledge my privilege, add an author's note, and don't presume to speak for an entire culture? DOESN'T MATTER. WE DON'T CARE. NO EFFING WAY.

There are others who'd say (have said) yes, that's OK, we'll share our stories with you and help you. One literary character doesn't represent a whole culture. We know you'll do your best and treat our stories with care.

Neither group is right, neither group is wrong. I see both sides. My work in progress requires me to ask these questions, as does my work that's looking for a home. Both manuscripts could get me in lots of trouble from the NO EFFING WAY peeps. Am I ready to take it? Do I really want to step in potential literary doo-doo?

I love my characters, and I know what I do with my privilege in my day-to-day life, which is try to jam the cogs of the racist, classist, sexist (add any other "-ist" you want) culture I live in (mwah ha ha, I'm a teacher, I indoctrinate people!). Plus I'm not ready to put my characters away yet. So . . . gulp . . . let the shit grace my path. Here I go.

Graphic stolen from here, a blog that's going on my "to-read" list.

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